Published: March 18, 2014
If you fall off the horse, get right back on. Or so the saying goes.
Some riders do. Others get spooked and never return to the saddle.
Mary Lawrence doesn't get spooked.
The Colorado Springs woman, 68, has ridden horses since she was a little girl. "It's a passion that I was born with," she says. But over the years, she has taken her lumps.
When Lawrence was 14 and growing up in Iowa, the horse she was riding got scared and bolted into a ditch; Lawrence went sailing and hit her head on a rock. She doesn't know how long she was unconscious, but her horse was nearby when she woke up.
"Somehow," she remembers, "I got back on her and rode back home, thinking, 'I cannot tell Mom, she will freak.'?" Despite a growing headache and the fact that she was seeing double, she joined her siblings in a game of badminton when she got home. Her mom didn't buy the act - Lawrence, it seemed, had been swinging at nothing with her racquet - and demanded to know what was wrong. Lawrence reluctantly told her mom about the accident, then began vomiting "copiously." She ended up in a hospital in Iowa City and was diagnosed with a traumatic head injury.
Doctors urged her not to ride again. But that, she told her mother, was simply not possible.
After graduating from college, Lawrence had another accident while on a several-day group ride in South Dakota. She was riding bareback, taking her horse to a stream to drink, when a child playing Superman "flew" right in front of them. The horse bucked and Lawrence fell off, receiving a kick in the head from the horse on her way down and suffering a skull fracture.
"I still have the imprint of a horseshoe on the side of my head," she says.
She has had other accidents, too, including one in which a horse fell on her and crushed her left ankle.
"Every time something happens," she says, "people will say, 'Now you're done.'?" But she remains undaunted.
When riding, she often encounters people who say, "Oh, I love horses and I used to ride, but I had one who ran off with me one time and I never got back on."
The ones who do get back on, Lawrence says, "are the ones who think and know that it was not the horse's fault. It was something that we did as a rider. I think the people who don't get back on are those who felt so out of control and they felt that it was the horse's fault that they were frightened or injured."
I don't ride; I've tried a few times but can never get comfortable in the saddle. My wife falls under the "those who felt so out of control" category; she hasn't had major accidents but has had some scares, so if she rides again, it will likely be on "a sure-footed mule."
My college-age daughter, on the other hand, feels quite secure on the back of a horse. Perhaps too secure: We often had to insist that she wear a helmet, which she doesn't like.
Lawrence was not wearing a helmet during the accidents she told me about and still rarely does. Though she advocates helmet use, wearing one was unheard of when she was a kid and so she never got in the habit, she says. Plus now, because of her head injuries, wearing anything tight on her head, even a headband, causes pain.
If you're a rider who goes without a helmet, you might consider these facts posted online by Parker Adventist Hospital in Parker; equestrian-related injuries are among the top injuries commonly treated at that hospital's emergency room:
- A horse elevates a rider 8 feet or more above the ground. A fall from as little as 2 feet can cause permanent brain damage.
- Horses gallop at 40 mph, while a human skull can be shattered by an impact at 4 to 6 mph.
- Head injuries account for 60 percent of deaths due to equestrian accidents.
I'm making sure my daughter sees these statistics.
Bill Radford and his wife live in the countryside east of Colorado Springs with a menagerie that includes a horse, a mule, two goats, three dogs, two cats, a half-dozen chickens, two rabbits, two guinea pigs and two parrots.
Contact him: Twitter @billradfordiii, gazettebillradford
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